It was a weekend filled with a lot of positives for the Syracuse Crunch. They looked to address their structure, slow starts, and their place on the standings. They also faced off against three different divisional foes, and each game proved to be much different than the other.
How does a young team respond to a humbling 7-2 defeat to a divisional foe?
Stick with the goalie that’s hot, and go with a more defense-oriented line-up.
Huge Alnefelt got his second consecutive start after posting a shutout in last week’s game against the Charlotte Checkers. It was also the first time this season Coach Ben Groulx opted to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen against Rochester.
We're going 11-7 with Hugo in net ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/SuuVawQjbi— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 9, 2022
It was a highly contested game, both teams playing a tight checking structured game. Unfortunately, no matter how structured Syracuse wanted to play this game the Amerks struck first.
Despite the Amerk’s scoring first, something different was noticeable in the Crunch’s game. They’re getting more control of their game. They’re controlling the puck better. They’re controlling defensive zone exits. They’re controlling their play in the defensive zone to keep pucks out of less dangerous areas.
After a scoreless second period, the Crunch came up with the equalizer early in the third. Gabriel Fortier took a pass from Gage Goncalves and found the back of the net.
Forts comes rollin in pic.twitter.com/U3Li4092SY— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 10, 2022
The Crunch were sent back on their heels, and Rochester did everything to apply pressure and get that goal back. Eventually the Amerk’s succeeded and scored the go ahead goal. It wasn’t a pretty goal, but it was the eventual game winner.
The greasy game-winning goal from Zach Berzolla pic.twitter.com/9WwCQ9Bny0— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) November 10, 2022
Eventually, the Crunch pulled Alnefelt, and then things went from bad to ugly. Playing in his 300th AHL game, Darren Raddysh was chasing Lukas Rousek who swung around the empty net and was hit high by Raddysh. Luckily, Rousek ended up being OK, but it was a scary moment, and it was one that merited a phone call from the AHL headquarters to Raddysh.
Syracuse's Darren Raddysh has been suspended one game as a consequence of a charging incident in a game vs. Rochester on Wednesday.— AHL Communications (@AHLPR) November 11, 2022
: https://t.co/Z0ib34yGbC pic.twitter.com/cOSoHd7RhB
After the game, Coach Groulx gave some thoughts on the game:
"We had no execution. We had no finish in our stick tonight."— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 10, 2022
Head Coach Ben Groulx comments following last night's game against the Amerks. pic.twitter.com/Aa5nF0ySmU
The two standout quotes from his postgame interview are telling about what Coach Groulx thought of the Crunch play:
“I thought we had a slow start, but I really liked our overall structure.”
“Their goalie made 4 or 5 big stops in the game. I think that’s the story of the game. They were very opportunistic, we weren’t, and their goalie made key stops at the right time.”
Slow starts have hampered this team all season, but the difference in this game was how they responded. Instead of trying to play catch up and getting out of their structure they continued to focus on the team defense element of things.
With Raddysh unavailable for Friday night’s game against Belleville, Coach Groulx went back to the 12 forwards 6 defenseman set while Maxime Lagace took over for goaltending duties.
Friday night lines ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Z67k48ddQ1— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 11, 2022
How would the Crunch respond without one of their top defensemen and one of their top scorers? How would they respond to their coach’s comments about having a slow start? They would let in the first goal.
Grant Mishmash, who has been in and out of the lineup, took a slashing penalty 4 minutes into the game, and the Senators scored a few seconds later to make it 1-0.
Later on in the first, Declan Carlile one-timed a pass from Goncalves to tie it up:
That puck had eyes pic.twitter.com/RmsaEGEnj3— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
And with that goal, the Crunch went off. They scored the next three goals to make it 4-1.
After an unfortunate turnover, the puck skipped in front of the net where Gabriel Fortier saved a goal by hooking a Belleville forward’s hands. Seconds after being released from the box, Foriter used his speed to and flung a wrister past the Belleville goalie.
Forts gives us that lead! pic.twitter.com/U77wMEBnfh— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
Three minutes into the third period Jack Thompson scored his second goal of the season to make it 3-1 Syracuse.
What a shot, what a celly pic.twitter.com/nOR7vIy44p— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
The final nail in the coffin was Félix Robert’s 7th goal of the season.
Bobby roofs it pic.twitter.com/se8Utc8OO2— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
The Senator’s did score again, but the damage had been done, and it was too late to mount a comeback.
"I think some guys played one of their best games of the year."— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
Head Coach Ben Groulx had compliments for his team following the 4-2 win over Belleville. pic.twitter.com/4pOY7uqpCf
Gage Goncalves, Shawn Element, and Trevor Carrick were all mentioned by Coach Groulx as having “one of their best games of the year”.
Carrick was needed to eat some minutes with the absence of Raddysh, and the defense did a tremendous job of not giving the Senators much in terms of shots on goal throughout the game. He also contributed with 2 assists and was a +2 on the ice.
Element has been a force since being recalled from Orlando. He’s been playing physical, he’s hard on the puck, and it’s really helped his offensive game materialize as he got an assist and was a +1 on the ice.
Goncalves has been on the top line with Robert and Barré-Boulet. He was able to tally a couple of assists and was a +2. That’s a positive sign because up until this game he’s really struggled to find some chemistry with that line, and he’s been a bit snake bitten when it comes to scoring goals. His drought, however, would soon be coming to an end.
Slow starts seemed to be the theme for the weekend. It was the first game of the Galaxy Cup, and normally, one would expect the first game in a series between divisional rivals to be a feeling out process. That said, this wasn’t a normal game, Utica was without both of their regular goalies who had been recalled by New Jersey. This might be exactly what the doctor ordered for what was ailing the Crunch’s first period woes.
The Crunch went with the same forward set for this game, but on the blueline Tyson Feist came out of the lineup so Darren Raddysh could come back in.
Tonight's projected lines against the Comets ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/MRScMW9MNH— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 12, 2022
It didn’t take long for Raddysh’s presence to be felt, and the Crunch’s “slow start” woes were nonexistent in this game. Raddysh throw the puck across the blueline to Trevor Carrick who slap-shotted the Crunch into the lead.
This was just the start pic.twitter.com/21BhT8KQ5y— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
The Crunch were just getting started, and Raddysh again made an impact on the blueline flinging a puck on net, and Daniel Walcott buried it.
Wally sweeps in the rebound pic.twitter.com/6KOQPbSZyj— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
Utica was able to get one back a shift later. Former Tampa Bay Lighting first rounder Nolan Foote scored his 5th goal of the season to make it 2-1. That was as close as it would get for the rest of the game.
Ryfors would score his team leading 8th goal of the season off a feed from Gemel Smith. That made it 3-1 Crunch.
Smitty with an A+ setup for Ryfs pic.twitter.com/JKz1641kr8— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
Barré-Boulet scored his 3rd of the season to make it 4-1 Crunch.
BB makes it look easy pic.twitter.com/OSwnQXm9fH— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
This is all still in the first period. It must be mentioned, the Crunch had not scored more than one goal in the first all season, and they’d gone seven games without a first period goal until Friday’s game.
Fortunately for Utica, the period ended. This was a Crunch team that was clearly looking to make a statement, and they didn’t seem to care who was in net.
For the start of the second, the Crunch continued to lay it on. Forward Lucas Edmonds made a tremendous defensive effort to save a goal, and then skated down to the other end of the ice to score his first ever professional goal to make it 5-1.
Lucas Edmonds: goal scorer and goaltender pic.twitter.com/klJNb6RyBz— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
Eddie pots his first AHL goal! pic.twitter.com/oKHCSEuEDY— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
The secondary scoring would continue as Shawn Element would pot his first of the season to make it 6-1.
Shawner finds a way! pic.twitter.com/VxNroHe1aG— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
Still in the second period, not even halfway through the game, Barré-Boulet would score his second of the game and 4th of the season to make it 7-1
BB putting on a clinic tonight pic.twitter.com/r7NUwDJCVk— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
To finish up the scoring, Goncalves finally broke through and scored his first of the year to make it 8-1 Crunch. He scored it on a tip in from a Raddysh blueline blast, and at first, he didn’t seem to want to celebrate the goal. The official scoresheet gave it to him though.
Gonzo making sure our goal light hasn't burned out pic.twitter.com/zI04w1Qtwe— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
The real victim in all of this was Isaac Poulter who was just recalled from the ECHL a few days prior, had just played the night before against Laval, and Utica didn’t have a goalie listed as a backup.
To their credit, Utica tried to fight their way back into the game. It’s hard to blame them, the Crunch weren’t really giving them anything to do with their hands. They were probably getting antsy.
While their goalie was getting beat up on the statsheet, and their players were getting beat up on the ice, the physicality for the Comets engaged their team. It allowed them to score a few more goals, but it wasn’t enough, and the game ended 8-3 for the Crunch’s 4th win of the season.
The things that really stood out for me for the Crunch this week was urgency. They played relentless 5 on 5 hockey. The focus on 5v5 play is important because their power play magic has fizzled out. Prior to Saturday’s game, the Crunch were 0-13 in the last 5 games on the power play. They did go 1-6 on the power play Saturday, but that’s nowhere near how excellent their special teams was to start the season.
Part of that is due to injuries, and part of that is just figuring out chemistry. Either way, it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. It’s hard to imagine having the two best point getters in the AHL on the same PP and not seeing any success.
A player that’s making the most of his time in Syracuse is Shawn Element. He took a midair Walcott pass and batted it into the net. He had a Gordie Howe Hattrick, Ryan Schmelzer took a run at Jack Thompson and Element immediately dropped the gloves and hit Schmelzer with one punch. He’s a young player, but he’s showing the leadership of a Daniel Walcott, Gemel Smith, or Pierre Cedric Labrie.
Speaking of Labrie, he was someone that really kept the Crunch physically engaged in this game. The Crunch could’ve sat back and let Utica start stuff, take runs at players, but Labrie wouldn’t allow that. At one point, after coming out of the box for roughing, he immediately went back to the box for a double minor in roughing. It was interesting to see how the Crunch handled having a 7 goal lead with a full period to go.
Lucas Edmonds scored the first goal of his AHL career Saturday night versus Utica.
The first one!— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) November 13, 2022
Congratulations, Eddie! pic.twitter.com/fwF4UkwSxf
Alex Barré-Boulet had 2G 5A this week for a total of 7 points. That broke a tie he previously held with former Crunch player Mark Hartigan for 3rd place in scoring in Syracuse history. Barré-Boulet (219 career points) is 11 points away from tying Lonnie Bohonos for second place (230 points). It’s important to note that he’s doing this while playing on the PK, the PP, and he’s playing important minutes against the other team’s top lines. Barré-Boulet is rounding out his game.
Despite missing a game due to a suspension, Raddysh continued his offensive tear as he racked up 5 assists in Saturday’s game. As of Sunday, he remains second in the AHL in points behind Barré-Boulet.
The Crunch play away at Springfield Wednesday morning with a 10:35AM puck drop. Then go on to have a rematch with Belleview at the CAA arena on Saturday night.